New life for the Hotel Churchill in downtown San Diego is providing new beginnings for 72 formerly homeless individuals, including 56 Veterans, who now rent affordable, furnished studios at the local historic landmark.
Hotel Churchill was constructed prior to the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-17, held in San Diego to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. The event showcased San Diego as the first American port-of-call for ships traveling west through the canal.
The San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) acquired Hotel Churchill and the adjoining parking lot on August 16, 2011, through a court settlement in a foreclosure proceeding. SDHC took immediate steps to safeguard Hotel Churchill, which had been vacant since 2005 and was in disrepair.
SDHC, working with its nonprofit affiliate, Housing Development Partners (HDP), renovated Hotel Churchill, which had been designated a local historic landmark on November 21, 2003, by the City of San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB).
This designation required that the façade of the building be restored:
• Original transom windows made of prismatic glass;
• Original single-pane windows in the units on residential floors 2-6;
• Six Juliet balconies replicated from historic photographs and installed in their original locations;
• 2,000-pound, 1940s-era Hotel Churchill neon rooftop sign meticulously restored;
• Building entrance sign and awning re-created from historic photographs; and
• Replacement of the lights in the cornice on the exterior of the building between the 6th and 7th floors.
However, the 7th floor, which was not part of the original building, was found to be structurally unsafe. It was removed and replaced, built to current building code standards.
The interior pays homage to the building’s history, and enhances the overall historic character of Hotel Churchill, while updating it with modern amenities. This includes the installation of viscous dampers, a voluntary seismic retrofit, marking the first time this technology has been used in a historic renovation in San Diego.
In addition, a new interior staircase to all floors was added, as was an exterior stairwell, and a rebuilt lobby staircase, which now runs to the restored mezzanine. A larger elevator that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act was installed. The building’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were replaced.
Contemporary elements were detailed to be sympathetic, but distinct, from the adjacent historic fabric. The new exterior stair tower is set back from the street and cloaked in a veil of backlit corrugated glass panels that align with the hotel’s cornice-work. The two primary, street-front elevations of the new seventh-story penthouse are clad in zinc standing-seam panels, which angle back from the façade below. This change in material and plane serves to emphasize the original historic roofline of the restored cornice in a form that does not compete with the hotel’s historic character.
Hotel Churchill was reconfigured from 94 Single-Room Occupancy units, which averaged 219 square feet, to 72 affordable studios, with an average of 321 square feet, each including a kitchen and bathroom. A grand reopening was celebrated on September 19, 2016.
These furnished studios provide affordable rental units with supportive services for homeless San Diegans:
• 56 for Veterans;
• 8 for transitional age youth ages 18-25; and
• 8 for adults exiting the corrections system.
The units at Hotel Churchill will remain affordable for 55 years for residents with incomes up to 60 percent of San Diego’s Area Median Income (AMI), currently $38,200 a year for one person.
For an additional 10 years, the units will be affordable for San Diegans with incomes up to 80 percent of AMI, currently $50,950 a year for one person.
Veterans at Hotel Churchill receive unprecedented supportive services on-site from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which for the first time in San Diego County has dedicated a full-time clinical social worker outside of their main office.
The non-Veteran residents at Hotel Churchill also receive on-site supportive services, which are funded by the California State Mental Health Services Act, administered by the County of San Diego’s Behavioral Health Services Division.
SDHC provided 72 Federal Sponsor-Based Housing Vouchers, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), directly to the sponsor, HDP, for rental assistance for Hotel Churchill residents.
Hotel Churchill is also a key accomplishment of the first three years of HOUSING FIRST – SAN DIEGO, SDHC’s Homelessness Action Plan, which launched on November 12, 2014.